Redskin Legends: Ricky Sanders - Rise to Success
By: Jake Russell @_JakeRussell
Category: Washington Redskins News
After high school, Sanders attended Southwest Texas State University (now named Texas State University) and excelled as a running back. He averaged over five yards per carry in 1982 and was named MVP of the 1982 Palm Bowl after rushing for 104 yards on 25 carries. That same season, he helped lead the Bobcats to the NCAA Division II Championship. In 1983 he was the team's top scorer with nine touchdowns and top punt returner, averaging over 11 yards per return. He ran for 706 yards on 141 carries and caught 14 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. He finished his career at Southwest Texas State third on the school's all-time rushing list.
Following his collegiate career, Ricky joined the United States Football League. The league played in the springtime, and was only in existence from 1983-1985. Sanders made his USFL debut as a member of the Houston Gamblers in 1984. While teaming with future NFL stars such as quarterback Jim Kelly and wide receivers Clarence Verdin, Richard Johnson, and Gerald McNeil, he flourished in the powerful Gamblers offense, finishing second on the team with 101 receptions for 1,378 yards and 11 touchdowns. His best single-game performance as a Gambler came during the 1984 season when he caught 8 passes and 227 yards against the Pittsburgh Maulers. From 1984-1985, Sanders caught 149 passes for 1,916 yards and 18 touchdowns in the USFL.
Prior to the 1984 NFL season, a USFL Supplemental Draft was held. Sanders was selected 16th overall in the first round by the New England Patriots. The Redskins were so intrigued by his performance in the USFL that they deemed him worthy of a 3rd round pick in the 1987 NFL Draft. The Redskins acquired the 23-year old's NFL rights from New England and signed him on August 11th, 1986.
Despite catching only 14 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns for the Redskins in 1986, Sanders' 20.3 yards per catch average gave fans visions of a young and talented third receiver teaming with the already successful duo of fellow wideouts Art Monk and Gary Clark.
It was his performance the following season during the Redskins' Super Bowl XXII victory that put Ricky on the map. At the time he broke three Super Bowl receiving records such as yards in a single game (193), longest reception (80 yards), and touchdown receptions (2) against the highly touted Denver Broncos. Ricky's two touchdowns contributed to a record-setting onslaught that saw the Redskins put up 35 points on the Broncos in the second quarter alone.
To add to his moment in the sun, Sanders was the recipient of a short pass from former President of the United States Ronald Reagan at the Redskins Super Bowl XXII celebration in Washington D.C. While making a speech at the podium on the White House lawn, Reagan lets out the infamous line: "Where's Ricky Sanders?" In just a matter of seconds, Ricky sprints in front of the stage and makes a nice reception in front of a raucous crowd of about 600,000.
Ricky followed up his Super Bowl performance with an outstanding 1988 season. He led the team with 73 catches and 1,148 yards. That same season, he tied the Redskins single-season record with 12 touchdown receptions and was named Most Valuable Player by his teammates. The 1989 campaign marked back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for Sanders, this time finishing second on the team behind Art Monk while compiling a career high 80 receptions for 1,138 yards. Known affectionately as "Slick Rick," Sanders fit in so well with Monk and Clark that the trio formed the notorious group known league-wide as "The Posse."
Ricky won his second NFL Championship on January 26th, 1992 against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. His impact in that game was no match compared to his showing in Super Bowl XXII but his 41-yard reception in the second quarter spurred a 17-point eruption against former USFL teammate Jim Kelly.
Sanders' final season with the Washington Redskins came in 1993. He finished his Redskins career fifth on the franchise's all-time list of reception yards with 5,854. He also caught 414 passes and 36 touchdowns with the team. In 1994, Ricky joined the Atlanta Falcons and finished his career in 1995 with former teammate Gary Clark and the Miami Dolphins.
As part of the franchise's 70th Anniversary celebration in 2002, the team created a roster of the 70 greatest Redskins of all-time. His name is on that list. The fact that Sanders is thought of so highly is a tribute to his contribution to such a successful era in Redskins football.
- Jake Russell
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